1950s Classic Cars
“The automobile industry in 1954 lived through its most fiercely competitive year since before World War II. Many dealers–financially weak or neglectful of good sales practices–were forced out of business.More important, the tough competitive conditions resulted in two mergers which eliminated the last of the independent automakers. General Motors Corporation in November built its 50,000,000th vehicle since the corporation was organized in 1908. The automobile industry’s production in 1954 was estimated at 5,509,200 cars and 1,024,700 trucks, making a total of 6,533,900 units. It was the fourth highest output for any year in history.
Mergers. The Kaiser Motors Corporation and Willys-Overland Motors had already merged in 1953. In May, 1954, the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Motor Car Company consolidated into American Motors Corporation.Later that year, in August, the Studebaker Corporation and the Packard Motor Car Corporation became the Studebaker-Packard Corporation.
These consolidations gave the former independents a better chance the survive in the face of all-out competition from the industry’s Big Three–General Motors Corporation, the Ford Motor Company,and the Chrysler Corporation. As they battled for sales, the Big Three gained a larger share of the market. The independents were able to sell about 94 out of every 1,000 of the 6,160,000 passenger cars made in 1953 but they were reduced to about 57 out of every 1,000 of the 5,509,200 produced in 1954.
By merging, the independents enjoyed greater financial strength. They could pool manufacturing plants and save money in things like buying supplies. Their combined engineering staffs were in a position to do a better research and development job. And, together, they had larger dealer organizations through which to sell their car.
New Designs. Automakers spent about $1,200,000,000 to design, engineer, and tool up for 1955 models, about twice what was spent on the 1954 autos.The new lines, which were introduced during the fall, showed the results of all this spending. As a group, 1955 models sported more style and engineering changes than had been made in any previous year in the industry’s history. The cars were lower and longer. They had wrap-around windshields for greater visibility. The trend toward power brakes and power steering was accelerated. With two exceptions, the Kaiser and the Willys, all 1955 models offered car buyers V-8 engines.Horsepower ratings were stepped up all along the line, reaching a high of 270 h.p. in one Cadillac model.
Chrysler unveiled a gas-turbine engine during the year which was capable of powering a production-model car. General Motors tested a gas-turbine engine in an experimental car called the XP-21 Firebird.”
“Automobile (1954).” Online Table. World Book Advanced. World Book, 2015. Web. 9 June 2015..